Ask a naturopath: How to know you are getting enough vitamin D?

May 6, 2022
Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels is important at every stage of life. But how do we know we have enough vitamin D, and what are the best natural remedies and supplements to support our needs? We asked Wanderlust Naturopath, Natasha Korfiatis how we can maintain our vitamin D levels when the sun isn’t shining.

Why is vitamin D important to our general health and wellbeing?

NK: The role of Vitamin D is to support bone health and immune health. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, helping our bodies to maintain healthy blood calcium levels to be absorbed by bones. Vitamin D, along with calcium, is essential for bone development in infants, children and adolescents, and bone health in adults. Did you know that bones stop growing somewhere between 17 and 25 years of age? This means that we want those bones to be as strong as possible before then!

If bone mass is insufficient in early life, we are more susceptible to bone weakness, such as osteoporosis later in life.

Vitamin D plays a vital role maintaining healthy functioning of the immune system. Research tells us that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of autoimmune conditions. It also plays a role in ‘protective immunity’ meaning that your vitamin D levels can affect how easily you contract infections. Studies associate vitamin D deficiency with increased susceptibility to infections, including acute respiratory tract illnesses.

How many of us are experiencing a vitamin D deficiency and why?

NK: In Australia, we need to balance maintaining adequate vitamin D levels from the sun, with protecting skin from the suns UV rays. According to the 2011 Australian Health Survey, one in four adults had a vitamin D deficiency. This increased further in winter to 36 percent of adults, and even in summer, 14 percent of adults had a vitamin D deficiency.

How much vitamin D can we absorb through exposure to the sun? How much do we need?

NK: In the sunnier months, it’s estimated that exposure to at least six per cent of the body, including face, hands, and forearms, or equivalent skin area, for 15 to 30 minutes, at least two-three times per week can provide sufficient vitamin D. However, as the UV rays are less intense in winter, and we may need as much as two to three hours of sunlight to the face, arms, and hands, spread over a week to maintain the necessary vitamin D levels.

How does a vitamin D supplement help us maintain healthy levels?

NK: If sunlight exposure is adequate, vitamin D from supplements may not be necessary. However, this may not be true all year round. It is important to keep in mind that it is almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from our diet alone, and if your exposure to sunlight is limited, especially in the winter months, a vitamin D supplement may be considered to maintain levels in the body.

What should we look for in a vitamin D supplement?

NK: Studies indicate that vitamin D3 supplements, compared to vitamin D2 supplements, are more effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D. So, it’s best to ditch the D2 and stick to D3. To support bone health, opt for a vitamin D3 supplement that also contains calcium.

What do we need to consider before taking a Vitamin D supplement, and who is most at risk of a vitamin D deficiency?

NK: Vitamin D3 supplements are generally considered suitable for most people. Vitamin D supplements are typically recommended when blood tests reveal low levels – so get your levels checked! Groups thought to be most at risk of vitamin D deficiency in Australia and New Zealand include older persons, as vitamin D isn’t produced as efficiently in the skin, and lack of sun exposure for those with limited mobility. Pre, peri, and post-menopausal women also have increased vitamin D and calcium requirements, as the risk of osteoporosis and fractures increases significantly with the age-induced drop in bone-building oestrogen levels.

What’s the best way to absorb vitamin D supplements?

NK: Vitamin D can be taken at any time of day, as a liquid or capsule. However, as  a fat-soluble vitamin, it is best absorbed when consumed with some form of fat, so try to take vitamin D with a meal or snack. Nutritious sources of fats include avocado, olives, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, dairy, yogurt, meat, oily fish, and soy-based foods like tofu, amongst others.

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